Good news for the Holy Land’s actual land.

Once upon a time, 1.3 billion cubic meters of water flowed between the Jordan River’s banks—a quantity that carried a large enough punch to power a joint Jewish-Jordanian hydroelectric plant which served both sides of the river, from 1932-1948.

Today, however, between Israel’s dam just south of the Sea of Galilee and the country’s redirecting of area springs; the wasteful and inefficient agricultural practices of pretty much everyone; and the recently built Syrian and Jordan dams on the Yarmouk River (the Jordan’s largest feeder), the river and its ecosystem must struggle by with only some 4% of that. About half of what remains is made up ofagricultural runoff, redirected saline water and raw sewage. On a warm day, the smell can be a little overpowering.

For years now, Friends of the Earth Middle East (a Palestinian-Israeli-Jordanian NGO) has been lobbying the governments of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority to take the gradual strangling of the area’s most important water source seriously—and it looks like those governments have finally begun to listen.

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry and the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee have said that they will soon submit a plan to provide $25.5 million for cleaning up the river, and

[t]here has recently been a breakthrough in terms of regional cooperation on improving the Jordan’s water, according to Gidon Bromberg, director of Friends of the Earth-Middle East.

…A waste treatment plant is set to go into operation next year near Bitaniya under the auspices of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, to purify waste from Tiberias that currently flows into the river and divert it for irrigation.

“The Jordanians are building a purification plant near Shuneh opposite Jericho with American funding, and the construction of another plant, funded by the Japanese, has already been decided on,” Bromberg says.

All of which is wonderful, but even if everyone follows through as expected, such efforts can only be seen as a first step—if only because the filth and saline waste has often been the only thing keeping the river and its complex environment alive, however shakily.

Environmental groups are concerned that the diversion of waste water from the river will improve water quality but reduce its quantity. The Water Authority has pledged it will replace the waste water with 30 million cubic meters of water, some from the [Sea of Galilee], although final approval for this plan has not yet come through.

And of course, there’s the conflict:

Rehabilitation of the southern Jordan River, which is beyond the Green Line, depends on cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, which is demanding recognition of its rights over this part of the river. Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan has expressed willingness to cooperate with the PA but so far there has been no real progress. Israel already uses a great deal of water in the area for farming in settlements, which the Palestinians do not recognize.

But all that being said, after so many years, this is truly excellent news. The Jordan River Valley is an international treasure, playing a vital role in Jewish, Christian and Muslim history alike. Some of humanity’s earliest farming took place along its banks, and an estimated half a million birds migrate through the 125 mile-long corridor every year. Every ecosystem deserves our protection, but this one undeniably has a special place in the human heart.

And for a century or so, Jews and Arabs have been fighting over the tiny piece of land that surrounds it. I’m grateful that we might be learning how to come together a little bit, if not for our peoples, then at least for the land itself.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


The Jordan – Politics, Pollution and the Death of a River – sources.

It occurred to me in what I think was literally the middle of the night last night that I should have also posted my source list for the Jordan River Valley talk I posted yesterday.

But rather than add on to an already lengthy post, I’ll slap it up now, starting here and continuing after the jump.


The Jordan – Politics, Pollution and the Death of a River


Following is a list of resources for anyone wanting to learn more about the issues I discussed at the Chicago Humanities Festival on November 11, 2007. It is necessarily incomplete, and subjective, but each of the following has been very useful to me, either in preparing specifically for my talk about the Jordan River, or generally in my efforts to cover and learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The Jordan – Politics, Pollution, and the Death of a River

Update: Some resources for the following can be found in this brief follow-up post.

Thanks to my new best friend, Twitter (follow me, won’t you?), I learned yesterday that hey, guess what? The Jordan River may run dry next year.

So I’ve been tweeting a bit about the issue, and was reminded of this post, wherein I promised to someday put up the transcript of a talk I gave at the Chicago Humanities Festival a couple of years ago, discussing the degradation of the Jordan River Valley down to and including the rapidly shrinking Dead Sea.

At that point in my blogging life, I wasn’t sure how to post the thing. Its own page? Perhaps? And then I pretty much just forgot about it. Well, now I’ve remembered, and now I know! I’ll start the transcript here, and you’ll find the rest of it after the jump.

One last thing: If you know anyone interested in the environment, the science of waterways, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and/or able to donate much-needed funds to a very worthy cause, please forward this post to him or her — or just direct him/her to Friends of the Earth Middle East (a link to which can always be found in the blogroll, to the right). Thanks!


Chicago Humanities Festival
The Jordan – Politics, Pollution, and the Death of a River

Good afternoon, and thank you so much for being here today. My name is Emily Hauser; I’m an American-Israeli who has written about the contemporary Middle East for 15 or so years. Ever since the explosion of the second intifada in September 2000, I have made no effort to hide my politics in my writing: I believe that the only thing that can possibly bring real peace or security to Israelis or Palestinians is a negotiated, mutually accepted two-state solution.

Years have proven, though, that while this is a surpassingly simple thing to say, it is apparently all but impossible to achieve. There are many, many reasons for the continuation of the conflict, and many heartbreaking consequences of its continuation – more often than not, the consequences wind up providing more reasons to keep fighting, and the struggle and the losses become ever more tightly wrapped around each other. Each dead child, every dead father, every shattered dream is another reason to never stop hating, never give an inch. On both sides.

As a rule in my work, I tend to focus on the blood spilled, the hearts broken – narrowing the harrowing numbers of dead and wounded down to an individual story or face, in an effort to shake readers and audiences into remembering that these numbers represent real people, real lives. People who, while they might not be exactly like you and me, have lost their worlds, and who among us cannot understand the terror and grief that must bring?

Yet in focusing entirely on people, I miss other pieces of the story – facets that are, perhaps, less immediate, but nonetheless tragic, and serve to play a crucial role in the perpetuation of the conflict.


A groove, I haz it.

No, not really. I am well and truly out of any possible or imagined groove. But I iz trying to get back into one, and surely that counts for something.

So, before I tackle whether or not Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite (no), whether or not huge snow storms prove that Al Gore (and elebenty billion scientists) are wrong about climate change (no), or whether or not Don’t Ask Don’t Tell should be fucking repealed already (yes) — or, in fact, anything really challenging and actually interesting like delving back into Strength to Love — I am going to take a brief trip down memory lane and present you with:

Snippets from a vacation

I have already said that Disney was awesome, and it most certainly was. It was fun because the kids had that sparkly-eyed look to them for days, it was fun because we travel well together and crack each other up, and it was fun, not least, because it is just plain fun to do nothing but play for a week, even when you’re a grown-up. Roller-coasters and 3-D movies and fireworks, oh my! It was great. And oh my goodness but it is just stunning the level of detail that the Disney folks attend to! There is nothing not thought of, no little embellishment that isn’t added, and added just right. Those Disney folks really know what they’re doing.

But you knew that already!

So I am going to tell you about a few little-discussed matters that were, for my money, less than perfect — that were, in matter of fact, a bit weird. Not to mention creepy.


  1. I realized on about the morning of Day Three of our Excellent Disney Adventure that I have never been anywhere in my life that was more aggressively neutral — and not because the overlords demanded it!I mean, we all know that Disney tries to be all things to all people (other than cheap — hoo boy! That’s some expensive popcorn!), and I’ve heard that when you work in the parks, you’re required to stick to some very stringent guidelines, from the minute you step on property, even before you’re in costume (piercings come to mind. I think women are allowed one per ear. Maybe not even that). So I expect Disney, qua Disney, to be veryveryvery Not Offensive.

    But the truth is that over the course of our week there, I laid eyes on thousands — if not thousands-upon-thousands — of people. THOUSANDS. And the single most controversial thing I saw was one guy in a t-shirt that read “My favorite teams are the Red Sox and anyone who’s playing the Yankees.” I saw maybe three women showing a little more cleavage than was strictly tasteful and one young lady in short-shorts, and precisely one t-shirt that might have been considered political in that it included a picture of our current President — but it was worn by a foreigner, and had been purchased at the Hall of Presidents gift shop, so it kind of hardly counted. When I, in fact, wore my own “Hope Won” shirt with the big ol’ Obama face on it one evening as I did laundry, I swear to you, one conversation stopped cold as I walked by and heads turned to gawk. I swear to you.

    Just… weird, man!

  2. The music. Oh my fucking God, the MUSIC! Everywhere you go in Disney World — and I mean everywhere, down to and including bathrooms and shuttle buses — there is music that is meant to set the tone. I remember reading somewhere that this is entirely planned and intentional, in that it helps to create the “we are entering the future!” or “we are now in the Ol’ Wild West!” ambiance as you move from space to space within the parks, and I can only guess that — like having no windows in Las Vegas casinos — it helps prevent you from remembering that there is a world outside the gates. Which, you know, that’s creepy.

    The kids and the husband were on the one ride that I didn’t want to go on (Space Mountain, if you must know), and I was taking the opportunity to sneak (that’s right: sneak) a soft-serve ice-cream cone without having also to juggle children’s nutritional/sticky treat needs as well. It was a brief moment of me-time in a week of family, and I was going to sit on a bench and savor some ice-cream, damn it!


    NO, REALLY!!

    One hit me upside the head as another knocked the ice-cream off my cone, and before I even knew what had happened, five (maybe it was four) were in a feeding frenzy in the midst of my (MY!) ice-cream, on the ground, three feet in front of me.


    The gulls must spend their days in Tomorrowland doing this:

    I somehow cannot imagine that Walt would approve.

The new need – part deux.

Thanksgiving behind us, we are now officially in Buy This For Your Loved Ones season. The catalogs and newspaper circulars are fat and frequent, as all of American capitalism throws its weight behind convincing us that THISTHISTHIS! is  just the thing we need to purchase in order to effectively demonstrate our affection.

I love gifts — both giving and receiving them. I don’t even mind capitalism as much as a good liberal probably should. But this year, I am particularly struck by the disconnect between the incessant drum beat to buy more stuff — and the fact that so many of us can no longer afford what we actually need.

If ever there were a time to direct our funds to supporting not corporations but people, I believe this holiday season might be it. Climate change is progressing even faster than expected; thousands of military families grieve the loss of their dead (or struggle to adjust to the injuries with which their soldiers have returned home); one in four American children lives on food stamps. And honestly, though it certainly feels like this year is particularly bad, the human experience is always one of struggle and need — and, as the song says, we get to carry each other.

So, following you’ll find a short list of organizations that I personally like, to which you might consider directing some cash if you have it to spare, or think that maybe Aunt Bertha would appreciate the gift of charity as much as she might a new scarf. Needless to say, this is but a tiny handful of the worthy organizations and community efforts out there — just find something that’s meaningful to you, and give what you can. That warm glow really is the universe giving back to you….

But first of all! If you want to vet a charity, you can go to the Combined Federal Campaign at the US Office of Personnel Management, the Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, and/or Guidestar to get trustworthy information about how the charity in question functions.

And now, my personal list:

  1. Heifer International: “Heifer International is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance & sustainability” — on the theory that if you give a family a fish, they eat for a day, but if you provide them with a clutch of chicks….
  2. Mercy Corps: “Mercy Corps exists to alleviate suffering, poverty and oppression by helping people build secure, productive and just communities”— and they are often among the very first responders to any tragedy around the world. We sent them money during Israel’s assault on Gaza this past winter.
  3. The Heartland Alliance: “Heartland Alliance helps people living in poverty or danger improve their lives and realize their human rights.  Through our diverse programs, we serve people in the toughest of circumstances and that are the hardest to reach, including survivors of violence, torture, and war and people living in extreme hardship or poverty.”
  4. To show support for American troops and their families, Iraq and Afghanistan Vets of America (the founder and executive director of which, Paul Rieckhoff, is often a guest on Rachel Maddow’s show) would be happy to hear from you. The Department of Defense also has links to several organizations.
  5. Sierra Club: “Since 1892, the Sierra Club has been working to protect communities, wild places, and the planet itself. We are the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States” (and my girl just gave herself a homework assignment to help the polar bears, and collected $30 to send them!).
  6. Israel/Palestine peace advocacy: This list is a good place to start
  7. … or if you want to combine your love for Mother Earth with your love for peace in the Middle East, go check out Friends of the Earth – Middle East.
  8. Hunger assistance: Feeding America — or, of course, your local food bank. (Don’t forget that $5 is a lot more useful to them than a few cans of food — they can always buy far more with your money than you can!)

Ok, it’s a start! Also, I always like the idea of giving presents that also serve to support communities in need — shopping at Ten Thousand Villages, for instance.

If you have any ideas you’d like to share, please feel free to do so in the comments.

We get to carry each other. Happy December!

U2 and a life of service.

So we went to see U2 on Saturday — their first American show in this tour — and it was, if I may, in a word: AWESOME!!!

Yep. That’s the word.

There is a lot of internet and indie-purist angst spilled over the fact that a) U2 are huge and b) Bono is arrogant, and thus c) the cool kids can’t like U2, but you know what, we all need to just get over ourselves. Musical preferences are a personal thing and if you don’t like U2, you don’t like U2 (hey, I don’t like Bob Dylan, so there’s that!) — but U2 is huge for the simple reason that they are the best at what they do (which involves not just songwriting and performing but also understanding the craft of putting on a show for 60,000 people), and, honestly, you get to be arrogant if you bring the goods. Which Bono does. He brings the goods both artistically and in his work for social justice — and he even has a sense of his own absurdity. Which is a blessing in anyone, certainly in an international rock star.

Plus which, they’re awesome!

So, now that I’ve put that little controversy to rest /brushes dirt off hands/, I turn to something that came up for me as I pogoed my way through Saturday night’s show (yes, I pogoed. And what of it?).

U2 always raises issues of social justice in their performances, dating back to their earliest days (War, anyone?). This year, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was turned over to the people of Iran, and as always, the case of Burmese leader and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi — under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years — was front and center with the song “Walk On“. There was talk of debt relief, and anti-retroviral drugs for people with HIV/AIDS in Africa (the number of drug recipients, we were told, stands today at three million, up from 50,000 in 2002 [or 2001. Hey, I was pogoing! I wasn’t taking notes!]). There were many references to the One Campaign, and (Red). “You’re all activists, Chicago!” Bono called out to us.

But rather than feel empowered, for a moment, I just felt overwhelmed.

I am an activist, I have been one for as long as I can remember. But when I shout “hell yeah!” for Iran, or Burma, or debt relief, I am just shouting. I am not involved in any of those issues. There is so much pain and so much need, and one person — especially one person with a limited budget, no international clout, and two small kids at home — can only do so much. I advocate for Israeli-Palestinian peace, I tutor at my kids’ school, I help out with community hunger issues, I send the occasional one-off check for gay rights or letter about infrastructure needs  —  I cannot take on Aung San Suu Kyi, too.

So there I stood, singing something or other, and feeling just — impotent, I guess. Small.

So that sucked! But, well, being as how it was U2 and they really are kind of in the business of elevation, I also found myself shaking it off — aside from anything else, making their audience feel impotent and overwhelmed was probably not what Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen (Jr.!) had in mind. Indeed, it’s my experience that feeling overwhelmed is the quickest way to activist burnout, and that’s no good at all.

So, now that my ears have stopped buzzing and I can think a little straighter,  I’ve decided to use this teeny tiny stage that I have built for myself to spread the word about U2’s causes a teeny tiny bit further, and see if I can’t, myself, send one more letter, or educate myself about one more thing, or make one more phone call. Just one.

If you have time, energy, and inclination, please consider adding your voice to one or more of these worthy efforts:

  1. Music Rising: This is The Edge’s project, “launched to rescue the musical culture of the Central Gulf region of the United States from the destruction caused by the catastrophic hurricanes of the summer of 2005 by replacing musical instruments lost or destroyed in the deluge.”
  2. (Red): “RED is a groundbreaking economic initiative designed to deliver a sustainable flow of private sector money to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Launch partners such as American Express, Converse, Gap and Giorgio Armani have committed to channelling a portion of profits from sales of specially-designed products to supporting AIDS programmes in Africa which have a focus on women and children. These include programmes in countries such as Rwanda, where, in the past two years, the number of people receiving treatments for HIV/AIDS has increased by ten-fold.”
  3. ONE – “ONE is a grassroots campaign and advocacy organization backed by more than 2 million people who are committed to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Cofounded by Bono and other campaigners, ONE is nonpartisan and works closely with African policy makers and activists.”
  4. Free Burma! – “Burma, a country of 47 million people is ruled by fear. A military machine of 400,000 soldiers denies a whole nation its most basic rights. Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace laureate, symbolises the struggle of Burma’s people to be free.”
  5. Greenpeace – “Our core values are reflected in our environmental campaign work: We ‘bear witness’ to environmental destruction in a peaceful, non-violent manner. We use non-violent confrontation to raise the level and quality of public debate. In exposing threats to the environment and finding solutions we have no permanent allies or adversaries. We ensure our financial independence from political or commercial interests. We seek solutions for, and promote open, informed debate about society’s environmental choices.”
  6. Amnesty International – “Amnesty International is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all. Our supporters are outraged by human rights abuses but inspired by hope for a better world – so we work to improve human rights through campaigning and international solidarity.”
  7. The Chernobyl Children’s Project – “Since its establishment in 1991, Chernobyl Children’s Project International (CCPI) has delivered over €76 million in direct and indirect humanitarian aid to the Chernobyl region. CCPI aims to restore hope to the people of the Chernobyl-affected region.”
  8. Angiogenesis FoundationI will admit that I almost didn’t include this, as I had never heard of it before. But if I’m not going to trust the guys who wrote “One,” who am I going to trust? “Founded in 1994, the Angiogenesis Foundation is the world’s first nonprofit organization dedicated to conquering disease using a new approach based on angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels in the body. Angiogenesis is the ‘common denominator’ in society’s most feared diseases, including cancer, heart disease, blinding disorders, and more than 70 other conditions. Our focus on this underlying process makes our approach as a medical organization unique and effective, and is already leading to breakthroughs for several cancers, diabetic wounds, and macular degeneration.”
  9. Iran – I’ll be honest, I’m not sure what people of good will who are not currently in Iran can do to help the citizens of that country win a freer and fairer life for themselves. But this is where I’m going to educate myself more — I’ll look into it, and post something over the next week or so.

Mother Teresa would often say something along the lines of “We cannot do great things; only small things, with great love” — or, in the words of the poet: “We get to carry each other.”

UPDATE: Shoot! “Embedding disabled by request. Watch on YouTube”! Oh well. One more click (right there on the “Watch on YouTube”), and you can watch it there….

Holy land/fetid water.

I often say that life in the 21st century is better, is most measurable ways, than it has ever been — at least for the kind of people who have regular access to the internet and are likely to read a blog. We live longer, healthier lives, have begun to understand and unpack our various human and social foibles, have easier access to good coffee. For the most part, people who hark back to the good old days weren’t paying enough attention in history class.

But as with all maxims, the foregoing has its limits. “Most measurable ways,” sure — but not all. The state of the very planet on which we conduct our lives being perhaps the prime exception to the rule.

We now know that while the human race has been getting steadily healthier, the Earth has been getting steadily sicker. As we have taken leaps and bounds toward new frontiers, we have left (are leaving) a dizzying swath of destruction that we have only just begun to understand. And in our destruction, nothing has been sacred.

Which brings us to the Jordan River, a stretch of water sacred to millions upon millions of people, and central to the story of humanity, whatever your faith or creed — a river which was once (as the hymn has it) mighty, deep, and wide, but which has not been so for some time.

In fact, the Jordan’s flow has been reduced by more than 90% in the past six decades, and about half of what is left is run-off from farms, re-directed saline water, and raw sewage — shit, in other words. As my friend Gidon Bromberg points out, if you were to get baptized in the stretch of river traditionally considered the spot where the Spirit of the Lord descended on Jesus as he rose from the waters under John the Baptist’s hands — “you’re likely to come out with a rash on your head.”

Gidon is the Israel director of the tri-national (Palestinian, Jordanian, and Israeli) non-profit Friends of the Earth- Middle East, which has as its organizing principle the notion that, hey, look at that, if we all live this close to each other — our environment is shared! Only they put it much more eloquently than that: “Our primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect our shared environmental heritage. In so doing, we seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in our region.” They are a fantastic organization, doing what I believe to be God’s own work — trying to not only save us from ourselves, but to save the very land so many claim to love more than life itself, and yet don’t seem to value for its own sake.

I’ve written several times about the devastation of the lower Jordan River and Jordan River Valley (and even got the chance to address the topic once at the Chicago Humanities Festival), so I’m going to indulge myself here, and quote one of my own articles: “The reasons for the precipitous deterioration of the river’s health are myriad and interconnected, and are inevitably shaped by the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel diverts some 60 percent of the fresh water heading downriver from the Sea of Galilee for its farms and kitchens. Jordan maintains a major canal that diverts water from the Yarmouk, upstream from which Syria has built more than 40 dams. Jordanian septic tanks allow untreated sewage to seep into the water basin, while Israeli municipalities and kibbutzim release their own sewage directly into the river. On both banks, most of the valley is a closed military zone, its misery hidden from view because of Israel’s and Jordan’s military demands.”

One of the results of this inexcuseable state of affairs is that the Dead Sea, which forms the terminus of the Jordan River, is shrinking — at the almost-visible-to-the-naked-eye rate of about three feet a year — and close to 2,000 sinkholes have opened up (some quite suddenly) around the sea, where once there was water and now there is none. The damage to the Dead Sea might in fact be irreversible at this point, with the only hope being to contain it. (In a mind-boggling act of Missing the Point, the Israeli government has apparently been registering the land that has emerged on the northern edge of the sea, located on the West Bank, as “state land,” in order to keep Palestinians from snapping it up).

And, as might be surmised from all of the above, people are simply running out of water. Israel, for the most part, manages to supply its own needs — but does so in part by denying Palestinians free access. NPR recently ran two excellent pieces on these issues, and I highly recommend that you give both a listen, or read the transcripts.

As much as I fear for the future of the Israeli and Palestinian people, I confess, I fear even more for the land on which they live — as goes the Jordan River, so go the lands that border it. In our efforts to shove each other out of our homes, we’ve managed to entirely ignore the land’s own needs, and are, in a word, destroying it, from the water table on up.

It seems a very shabby way to express national sentiment.


Note: I will post my Chicago Humanities Festival lecture on a separate page, complete with a partial list of sources, and will post an update here when its up.

%d bloggers like this: